The NHS is here for your mental health

This week we celebrate the 72nd birthday of the NHS, in a year that is unlike any other. We have faced a global health pandemic and COVID-19 has brought about a scale of challenge that we have not seen before, for the NHS and its staff.

COVID also exposed and reinforced the need for the NHS to do more to promote and protect diversity in our staff and tackle health inequalities in the communities we serve. We want to renew our commitment to these principles as we celebrate our birthday but also determine what’s important in the year ahead. As we anticipate an increasing demand for mental health care and support in the coming months and years, we need to grow our workforce and recruit so that we are well equipped and staffed to manage the challenges ahead.

As the Chief Executive of a Mental Health and Community Trust, I have visited front line staff throughout this crisis. I have seen colleagues more determined than ever to make a difference to the lives of the patients they care for and to support and encourage each other.  I thank each and everyone one of them for the amazing commitment and adaptability they have demonstrated throughout the pandemic. I hear from chief executives and executive directors from right across the country, all of whom give accounts of impressive, smart and heart-warming care, provided by brilliant colleagues. That care is for older people, those in in-patient services, mothers and babies, those with serious mental health problems living at home, children and young people, urgent and emergency care and in prisons, and so many other places.

This crisis is impacting our mental health in many ways and we expect the demand for mental health services to increase. Many families have lost loved ones and are left facing grief and loss. We also hear parents’ concern about their children being out of school and away from their friends. Our frontline health and social care staff have moved mountains to support those affected, and despite sometimes being afraid for their safety or that of their families and friends, it was because of those they love and their commitment to the NHS, that they come to work anyway. I salute them all. I also want to take this opportunity to thank our many partners across social care, the voluntary services and independent sectors, for all that they do too. The NHS is nothing without her staff and many partners.

What I want to say to everyone, is that the NHS is here for your mental health. Our services have remained open. We have adapted quickly by expanding our crisis offer and delivering safe online support. Face to face appointments are still possible for those who need them.  I have never been prouder of the men and women who work in mental health for the NHS. What they have achieved during the crisis is truly impressive. And the next generation is already stepping up to the challenge.

But we need more people to join our ranks to fulfil our Long Term Plan ambition to provide care for an extra two million children, young people, adults and older adults by 2023/24. And we now also need to address the impact of COVID-19. I would like to encourage you to consider a career in mental health in the NHS, in nursing, talking therapy, art therapy, psychiatry or many other paths. Come and help us support and improve the mental health of our nation. The sector is extremely diverse, and we want to recruit people from all ages and from all ways of life. In my own trust, almost half of our staff are from a BAME background. Across our NHS mental health services, we welcome and celebrate diversity, and want to be able to reach out to all communities.

I am proud of the transformation the sector has delivered under extreme pressure. Recently, Lord David Prior, Chair of NHS England, visited a mental health unit to see how services have responded through the challenges of the pandemic. Lord Prior commented on how humbled he felt by the outstanding work of the team and how important it was to keep mental health at the heart of the NHS’s plans for the future. I could not agree with that statement more.

The work my colleagues are doing across the country makes me so delighted to be part of this team. This is my 37th year in the NHS and I have never ceased to be amazed at our mental health staff. These last few months have showcased their dedication, commitment and compassion more than ever. If you are looking for a career with true purpose, the mental health sector is for you.

Claire Murdoch

Claire Murdoch is NHS England’s National Mental Health Director.

She has been a registered mental health nurse for 34 years, and joined NHS England in April 2016.

She is also Chief Executive of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. With a wealth of clinical and leadership experience she is leading delivery of the national mental health programme.